Twelve Curious Men

Here’s an interesting case from Vermont where an appellate court set aside a criminal conviction in a case involving a Somali Bantu immigrant accused of aggravated sexual assault on a child. While the trial was in session, a juror went on line to research Somali culture. According to the court, the question of Somali culture was at the heart of the defense in the case, and for that reason, the state of Vermont, which sought to have the verdict upheld, could not show a lack of prejudice from the extracurricular research. The whole point of a trial is that it is to be decided only on the evidence presented in court. In almost all cases, prior to and during the trial, the judge rules on challenges to proffered evidence to ensure that the jury hears only admissible evidence. Allowing a juror to gather information online, and to share it with other jurors, frustrates this process. One interesting side note is that another juror also conducted online research on the definition of an “incompetent juror.” This was apparently motivated by frustration with one of the jurors. Because the court granted a new trial on the first issue, it did not rule on whether this conduct would have resulted in a new trial.